The Croods is a movie that teaches your children to play in traffic

If you have too many children, and want to get rid of a few of them, then you should definitely consider taking them to see The Croods. A movie whose message is: "Run towards danger! Any danger! Preferably without looking first!" Spoilers ahead...

Actually, I'm pretty sure The Croods doesn't mean to convey that message. But in its eagerness to hammer home a simplistic "overprotectiveness is wrong" message, it sort of lurches too far in the opposite direction.

In The Croods, the overarching conflict involves Nicolas Cage, as an overprotective caveman father who wants to keep his family locked away in their cave from any potential danger — except that the whole continent they're living on is about to be destroyed, and it's time for them to embrace change. It's all a metaphor for how you're smothering your kids with your over-parenting.

I'll give a proper synopsis of the film in a second, but you can save yourself some time if you've seen Hotel Transylvania. Take the synopsis of Hotel Transylvania, substitute "cave" for "hotel," "cavemen" for "monsters" and "nomad" for "backpacker," and you've got The Croods. Oh, and substitute Nic Cage for Adam Sandler, and lower the film's IQ a few points.

Basically, the Croods are cave people, living alone in the middle of a wasteland full of weird and deadly creatures. All of their neighbors have been eaten by monsters, as we see graphically in the film's opening sequence — so it's actually pretty understandable that Grug (Cage) wants to keep the family locked away in the relative safety of the cave. They are surrounded by huge, people-eating monsters, including giant blue tigers and massive birds and things. But the movie clearly wants us to think Grug's overprotectiveness is terrible, because he's stifling his family. Better to just let them be eaten by huge owl-faced cats, I guess.

In any case, Grug does turn out to be wrong about staying in the cave, because the whole area is turning into lava due to plate tectonics. Fucking plate tectonics, man. It'll ruin your whole day.

There are endless sequences of Gru, in Cage's best drawl, explaining that everything new is scary and bad, and telling the same bedtime story over and over: about someone who explored something new, and died as a result. But his rebellious daughter Eep (Emma Stone) wants to live and explore and stuff. Soon, she meets a sexy young guy, named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who knows how to make fire. Guy convinces the family to leave their doomed land mass and go on a journey to try and find a safer spot somewhere — and along the way, Guy teaches them to start unquestioningly accepting anything new and different.

The Croods is a movie that teaches your children to play in traffic

To a large extent, this is just the latest in the recent boomlet of "overprotective father, stifled daughter" cartoons, including Hotel Transylvania but also Gnomeo & Juliet. Brave also has the daughter who wants to break free, but without the overprotective father.

But where The Croods stands out is in its somewhat kludgey message. There are only two ways of looking at the world: Newness is bad, or newness is good. There's no world in which some new things might be good, and other new things might be bad. I mean, sure this is a kids' movie. And of course, Guy and the Crood family do encounter a variety of dangers, as they travel across a landscape that vaguely resembles James Cameron's Avatar. But we're still bombarded every few minutes with the message that heedless acceptance of anything new and different is the only way to live.

And there's a vaguely woolly liberal sentiment embedded in all this — Grug's "father knows best" ideology is presented as ultra-conservative and backward-looking, while Guy represents progress and innovation. The whole Crood family goes from thinking that the patriarchal Grug is right about everything to viewing him as sort of a sad holdout from an earlier time. And Eep, the feisty daughter, is sort of vaguely liberated by casting off her father's authority. So yay for liberal propaganda, I guess?

That said, The Croods isn't a bad film. It's moderately fun, at least some of the time. It's pretty to look at — some of the creature design and general scenery are lovely. Especially the creatures, which are inventive and fantastical, and like nothing you've seen on screen before. And I like the raw physicality of the cave-dwellers in the scenes where they're hunting and stuff. Nic Cage clearly has a lot of fun playing a Cave Dad who's slowly being forced to broaden his ideas, and he gets a few laugh-out-loud moments as he tries to use his brain for the first time. (Cage yelling "I... have... an... i.. dea!" is bound to become a meme or something.) And the ending is actually pretty moving in parts.

The Croods is a movie that teaches your children to play in traffic

But The Croods is lazy, reaching for sitcom jokes that were old 20 years ago. There are no story beats in the movie that you can't see coming a mile off, if you've seen movies before. It's mostly very bland comfort food, and there's nothing wrong with bland comfort food.

And honestly, there's nothing wrong with a film that teaches kids to take risks or be adventurous. But where Hotel Transylvania managed to make Adam Sandler's overprotectiveness understandable but misguided, The Croods goes to crazy lengths to make Nic Cage wrong and misguided. And where Transylvania had a final act that's actually mildly clever, The Croods sort of stumbles to line up a pretty unsurprising resolution.

Plus if you take your kids to see The Croods, you might want to have a talk with them afterwards about the notion that rushing headlong into danger isn't always the most brilliant idea, and that occasionally your parents might be right if they warn you not to go running off, after all. Unless plate tectonics strikes again, in which case all bets are off. Fuck you, plate tectonics.